Rhutgard held his sword ready, its cross-guard already wet with blood. Where was Kendrick? Kendrick’s directives were to stay behind him, not ride forward! Rhutgard did not need to lose another son, in particular, the Crown Prince and Eastern Shield to Be. He would deal with Kendrick later.
Another bloody bastard rode forward, whom he neatly dispatched – the man slumped forward as his horse carried him away. These were not Ormons, thought Rhutgard wildly – they fought with green and red checked shields. Stordish, he thought. They couldn’t fight for a damn.
That was it, thought Rhutgard, they were sending the Stordish out first, to exhaust the Eastern Alliance Army. Then the Ormons would attack.
He wheeled his mount around and called for a withdrawal of troops. As he did so, an arrow took his horse in the leg.
Rhutgard had enough time presence of mind to jump from the horse before he was trapped beneath it.
An infantryman crept up to him, sword ready. Rhutgard swung and their swords clanged. Rhutgard threw his shield up to avoid the man’s parry, then drove a forward stroke that slid between the soldier’s ribs. He pulled his sword out of the man’s body, watching the soldier slide onto the ground, dead, and turned for another opponent.
Rhutgard never thought to use the Rose Thorn sword in war – yet here he was in the middle of battle. Oddly, he wished for Luvian just now, for the last time he’d swung a sword, Luvian was behind him.
Another Stordish soldier raised his sword against him. Ha! Hardly more than a boy, thought Rhutgard with disgust as he swung his own sword about to dispatch the soldier. He moved to disengorge the soldier.
Kendrick galloped into view. “Get on!”
“What the bloody hell are you doing out here! I told you –”
Two arrows whizzed past.
“Never mind that, Father, get the fuck up here!” Kendrick leaned down with an arm.
Rhutgard climbed upon his son’s horse and they galloped out of the battle.
“Never mind I saved your bloody life –”
“By not following orders, you put your own life at risk. Did I not tell you to follow behind –”
“Do you want to hear what I found out, or do you want to keep giving me the Royal Chastisement?”
“Nothing I haven’t figured out with my men already, Kendrick.”
“These Stordish –”
“Are meant to serve as a vanguard only, to tire our troops out, yes I know, Kendrick.”
“Were part of an arrangement between Varley and the Ice Queen – she is sending more troops as we speak down the Northern Countries Crossland. A dying soldier admitted that to me. That’s why I came to find you.”
Rhutgard was silent. Gerard! They had to get word to Gerard!
Kendrick voiced his thoughts. “We must get word to Uncle Gerard, Father. Runners, immediately.”
“Sergeant! Find me scouts, now, and two cavalry men.”
The soldiers who had witnessed the spat between Kendrick and him had been previously invisible but now sprang into action.
He directed each of the men what to say once they found Gerard’s troops and then looked at his son.
“Walk with me.”
Once they were out of earshot, he told Kendrick, “You did well to act as you did; such were the actions of a field captain. And I think you know how grateful I am for rescuing me – also the actions of a field captain. And a son.” He permitted himself a small smile. “But son, Kendrick. This is a war – and you are under the command of the Eastern Shield. You cannot argue with the Eastern Shield, particularly not before the men. Do you understand that?”
“Even when he’s wrong?” asked Kendrick in a low voice.
Cheeky little shit. So like himself. Father would have cuffed him for saying that, as would have Grandfather. But those were different times.
“Your next outburst of disrespect will cost you your Captaincy, Captain Firthing. Consider whom you’re addressing.” Rhutgard watched Kendrick’s eyes grow round and the boy stood straighter, with the air of a soldier who had just been dressed down.
“Yes, sir!” There was no disrespect in Kendrick’s tone and he stared straight ahead properly as a soldier should.
Ah. Much better. He would not have his soldiers complain of nepotism in the ranks.
But one thing remained.
“Thank you, Captain Firthing, for saving my life today.”